Wanaka is a wonderful place and somewhere I wish we’d been able to stay for longer. In the past I think it’s been over shadowed by nearby Queenstown but more people seem to be discovering Wanaka’s charms so I’d recommend going before it becomes too overcrowded.
The journey from Franz Josef to Wanaka was absolutely stunning and one of my favourite drives that we’ve experienced. We did quite a lot of stops so that we could enjoy the scenery and the beautiful weather and so got to see quite a lot on the way. The first stop of the journey was at Lake Matheson which is very close to the Fox Glacier. It’s a mirror lake and on a clear day you can get a perfect reflection of Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak. Whilst the water was flat enough for us to see its mirror-like qualities it was still cloudy so we didn’t get to see the mountains, but I have seen photos of what it can look like and it looks stunning.
We also stopped off along the coast before heading inland into the mountains. Here we were very lucky to see some Hector’s dolphins swimming along the coastline quite close to shore. Hector’s dolphins are native to New Zealand and are the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin breed which meant it was quite a special moment. Thunder Falls and the Blue Pools were two other places we stopped for photos which looked stunning in the sunshine. If I’d been driving this route myself I’d have wanted to stop off every few minutes for more photos so it was probably a good job that we were on a bus!
Once we arrived in Wanaka I quickly revised where my favourite place so far had been as it was beautiful and we were particularly lucky with the weather as it was hot and with cloudless skies. Wanaka was the first place we’d visited that I could actually imagine myself living there. It’s a reasonably sized town which is just big enough to have everything that you need. There were nice restaurants, bars, excellent ice cream and a selection of shops. The views across the lake were of the snow capped mountains of Mount Aspiring National Park and there were plenty of outdoor activities which you could do on the lake or amongst the mountains. Wanaka also happens to be dog friendly – it’s probably the place where I’ve seen the most dogs which was another positive in my eyes.
Roy’s Peak is apparently the hike for the best views of the area but the track was closed for lambing when we were there so we settled for the shorter but very steep walk up Mount Iron instead. From the top you could see 360 degree views of the surrounding area including both Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea.
In addition to walking we spent a lot of time just relaxing by the lakeside. I found it too cold for swimming but James went in whilst I paddled. I walked around to the famous Wanaka tree to take some photos (along with every other tourist) and can recommend having a picnic tea on the beach whilst the sun sets. Every Thursday there is a small market close to the lake front which is worth checking out. All the produce is local and there is a range of food, drinks and crafts. We spoke to some interesting stallholders; one guy was in New Zealand for a year and selling photos to fund his trip, and another was about to move to the UK and was looking for feedback on a new drink product he wants to sell.
Another Wanaka attraction which is slightly out of town (but walkable) is Puzzling World. I thought it was going to be a waste of money but it surprised me how much I enjoyed it so it’s worth checking out. It has the world’s first 3D maze (which I only managed because I was with James), multiple illusions and even in the café there are plenty of different puzzles that you can have a go at.
I really loved Wanaka and
if when I return to New Zealand it’s certainly somewhere I’ll try and make an effort to go back to.